When considering an iconic poem like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, one does not often think of “Le Corbeau” nor the artist Édouard Manet.
The truth is that “The Raven” (1845) inspired many artists and writers, particularly in France. These artists and writers include Gauguin, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé.
In 1875 Manet collaborated with Stéphane Mallarmé and together they produced “Le Corbeau”. It was a translation of Poe’s “The Raven” which incorporated artwork by Manet.
(Side note: For French-speaking readers, this link contains Poe’s “The Raven” with translations of “Le Corbeau” by Baudelaire and Marllarmé, side-by-side.)
Along with a poster and a cover design, four full-page illustrations were also included in “Le Corbeau”.
Manet began conceptualizing these illustrations the year prior to its publication. The first definite example of his work on the project is from 1875. It is on a lithograph of Pekingese (the dog breed) sketches accompanied by a Raven’s head.
If you’re looking at the image above and thinking, hmmm, this doesn’t really look like a Raven…you’re right! It looks like a Rook.
There could be many reasons for why the bill on the bird more closely resembles that of a Rook. One could be the medium that was used.
Another reason could be related to interpretation based on location and culture — Manet and Baudelaire were French.
And in France, Rooks are common, whereas in the U.S. they do not exist in the wild.
Praise and Critique
Of Manet’s work, a reviewer commented “the artist has condensed into a few astonishingly forceful views what the original author’s imagination offered his witty [brush]”, and claimed that Manet “felt and conveyed the essence of the poem”.
Examination of Manet’s cover design lays basis for the artist’s simple but profound line work, and his depiction of the Raven’s striking profile as an alert and watchful sentry.
Manet, who at the time, was considered to be avant-garde and “an acquired taste“, did a remarkable job marrying Poe’s words to the Raven’s image. However, the collaboration between Manet and Mallarmé was unsuccessful.
Despite the work being a total flop, Manet’s contribution to it, is what has carried on.
What do you think? Comment below.
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Author: Orianna Green is an art major at Carnegie Mellon University. Her favorite birds are robins and nightjars.